LOCKPORT – John R. Freeman Jr. admitted in Niagara County Court today that he killed a 5-year-old girl he was babysitting last year.
Freeman, 17, of Sixth Street. Niagara Falls, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence for throwing the corpse of Isabella M. Tennant of Cheektowaga into a stolen garbage tote in Niagara Falls Aug. 26.
Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III agreed to sentence Freeman to a minimum of between 20 and 22 years in prison, with a maximum of life in prison. The sentence will be imposed Sept. 5.
Charges remain open against Freeman’s co-defendant, Tyler S. Best, 18, of Barnard Street, Buffalo. He was charged with a felony count of tampering with physical evidence after he told Niagara Falls police Aug. 27 that he had helped Freeman dispose of the girl’s body. His trial is scheduled for Aug. 19.
So was Freeman’s, until this morning.
Freeman was in court Wednesday morning as Murphy issued a decision allowing defense attorney Robert Viola to use a mental health defense at Freeman’s trial, a move prosecutors objected to because of Viola’s delays in giving them specifics about his claim of “extreme emotional distress.”
However, Murphy told the attorneys to return to court 90 minutes later to discuss scheduling. That’s when the plea was entered.
Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma said a gag order issued by Murphy remains in effect, so she was unable to discuss the case.
Freeman had told police he used his hands on the girl’s neck when she wouldn’t stop crying. The babysitter was a family friend of the girl’s great-grandparents, Sharon and Hank Lascelle, who lived on Sixth Street and who went to bed, leaving the child in Freeman’s care.
The girl’s mother, Crystal Walker, had dropped her off on her way to work at a Niagara Falls bar.